This morning, while driving to work, I listened to an expert discuss on one of the FM stations the whole issue of fake phones.
The man contends that after all the publicity, hype, resources and energy put on switching off fake phones, the whole thing is as spurious just as the fake phones.
This is why.
First, he asked if you could identify any of your neighbors, friends of colleagues whose phones were switched off. If the answer is yes, then the phone is back and being used again. The reason there is no longer any outcry is because a good number of those phones are back in circulation.
This is what happens, a phone that is switched off has no IMEI or has a fake one, the operator or service provider uses the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) to disable a fake phone. Now, all providers were to share the details of the switched off phones.
They are not sharing the same. So if your phone is switched off, you only need to buy a sim card from another provider and you are back in business.
Two, as soon as CCK announced this, cunning folks got soft wares that can enable a disabled phone. It simply asks you to change an IMEI if your phone has a fake one of to create an IMEI if it does not have one. Once you follow the steps, boom, you are in business.
Three, dead genuine phones are now being used to provide genuine IMEI numbers and using this soft ware, the cunning fellows create an IMEI for a fake phone and thus a fake phone becomes a genuine one in circulation! Dead genuine phones cost only Ksh 200/=.
This brings to question the whole concept of regulations and enforcement. First and foremost, many Kenyans only got to know of the IMEI the other day, how were they to identify fake phones from genuine ones? If you import anything for sale to the country, you must deal with certain bodies to certify if the goods are fit for use in the country. This is KEBS. For tax purposes, you must also deal with KRA. In the case of phones, CCK has to be involved.
One may want to ask, where were all these bodies when fake phones were flooding our market? A better question to ask is, why should they penalize the ordinary Kenyan whose only mistake is to buy a phone from a licensed vendor? The vendors in town have al the necessary paperwork from the Councils and all licensing bodies, otherwise, how come they have not been arrested and shut down?
Over 10 people called within the hour claiming their phones have been restored; they used the same phones to call in during the radio interview. You cannot blame them.
This whole concept was great but poorly implemented. The gains have been eroded and even now, much more danger lurks. Imagine that genuine phone you threw away, sold to a “recyclers” or simply cannot trace? Its IMEI could be used on a fake phone and that puts you in danger should it be used to criminal activities.
It is said that a fake phone’s lifespan is less than 6 months. The government and CCK should have simply tightened the import of fakes and ensured all loopholes are sealed, allow for 6 months to 1 year and all fake phones would be out of the market, sensitize Kenyans thoroughly on the dangers of fake phones, most do not have security features and can lead to cancers because they do not meet international standards for safety and use.
That way, instead of the punitive measures, we would have won this war on fake mobiles, as it is; the war is lost even before it begun.
Look at it this way; we may end up with thousands of phones which emit radiation if we do not put in place a concrete policy on E-Waste especially with regard to fake phones.
According to this expert, 1,000,000 phones collected and recycled would give 30 Kgs of gold and about 300Kgs of silver. This is potential that CCK should have looked into. Right now, we do not know where the fakes end up; even that dead phone in your house continues emitting radiation and thus endangering your life.
If we want to succeed as a country in implementing policy, the first step is to sensitize citizens, ensure they know what benefits accrue and even own the concept, thereafter, a grace period to right the wrongs through a beneficial and value-chain process, and you will definitely get it right. The government could have even offered to discount every fake phone presented with receipts and then taken it upon itself to seek recycling of the same to cover the cost of discounting for owners of fakes.
As we clean our country of all sorts of challenges, we must remember that handling the process is key to success. We must not try to be populist but realistic.
While I fully support this initiative, may I suggest to The PS, Ministry of Communications and The Communications Commission of Kenya to change tack and approach before all, including resources allocated to this, is lost.
Robert Alai is a respected Kenyan blogger, technical evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle or Facebook page. he is the founder of KahawaTungu.